OPINION;Japan teeters on the brink of national crisis: Professor Takeshi Sasaki

November 24, 2010

Recently, Yasushi Kudo, Representative of The Genron NPO, interviewed Professor Takeshi Sasaki (former president of the University of Tokyo, and currently professor of politics at Gakushuin University's Faculty of Law), and exchanged views for about one hour on the present situation of Japanese politics. Mr. Sasaki is indisputably Japan's representative and top-notch political scientist. To his astonishment, Professor Sasaki gave Kudo an alarming message that Japan is facing a "national crisis." "My own observation of today's political situation in Japan is rather harsh. But even for me, Mr. Sasaki's description of Japan as being "in a national crisis" was beyond expectations," Kudo said.


The following are some excerpts of Professor Sasaki's remarks in the interview, part of which was aired on Nov. 3 during a weekly FM radio program, titled 'ON THE WAY Journal'.

"The Japanese public opinion is gradually changing, and an increasing number of the Japanese people are becoming apprehensive about the future of the country and sensing the current situation to be a sort of 'national crisis.'

"The root problem is that Japan's political parties think little of how to govern themselves. The people feel it odd that political parties incapable of managing themselves are attempting to manage the nation. Again, the root problem is the absence of management ability on the part of political parties.

"For political parties, the so-called manifestos, or political platforms, were the tool for their self-governance, no more and no less. But once they score a victory in elections, the manifesto would turn out to be the tool to govern the nation. Therefore, they must rack their brains in drawing out their manifesto.

"When it comes to the unfolding scandals regarding the misuse of political funds, the crux of the issue is the self-governance capability of political parties. Political parties in Japan today are devoid of established mechanisms to centrally manage money available within the organization. To this length, I have been advocating for a comprehensive revision of the political fund control law. This task is unavoidable for all the political parties in the sense that it directly pertains to their own capability of self-governance. And this ought to be taken as a separate issue, and dealt with independently of corruption scandals and accusations against politicians. Unfortunately, it seems that they don't understand what I mean.

"I feel apprehensive that while we are making a mockery of and lashing out at politicians, all the governance systems in this country might collapse overnight. Indeed, Japan is facing a crisis of national governance. As a political scientist, I have been observing Japanese society for 20 to 30 years, and it is for the very first time that the problem of Japan's governance ability has come under such close scrutiny. The situation is very serious, as shown by the recent scandals involving prosecutors' offices. In other words, we are now in a precarious situation caused by politicians who adopt the populist way of thought, where empty promises, or those that are impossible to achieve, are made by politicians who favor seeking the support of the people. The time has come for Japanese people to carefully discern who are genuine and who are fake."

(Kudo's comments Below)

At the radio talk show, Kudo made the following comments on Professor Sasaki's remarks:

After listening to Professor Sasaki's remarks, I've become apprehensive about whether Japanese political parties are functioning properly. As shown by the most recent territorial dispute over the Senkaku islands and the competitive devaluation of currencies among economic powers, the world is getting increasingly destabilized. As the hyper-aging of populations advance, Japan is deeply set in financial trouble. We cannot foresee the future at all. Under such circumstances, political parties are expected to stay in good order and prove its strategies to the public. But Professor Sasaki warns that political parties are malfunctioning--that they cannot manage themselves, what more the nation.

Professor Sasaki's alarming view has prompted me to re-examine the way The Genron NPO has been dealing with political parties' policy platforms or so-called "manifestos." For the past six years or so, we have been making objective evaluations of each political party's manifesto during national elections and publicizing these observations for the sake of the people. The fundamental premise of our campaign is that political parties are functioning properly. On hindsight now, it may all be natural that policy pledges are not being realized after the seizure of power, now that the political parties are dysfunctional. If this is the case, we ought to reconsider our approach. As much as I realize the significance of our evaluations, I am much inclined to take another approach to making objective evaluations of individual politicians based on our own set of criteria or standards.

After the interview was over, I asked Professor Sasaki what we need to do to get out of this stalemate. His answer was that only external pressure would force a big change. I share Professor Sasaki's observation that only when compelled by external pressure would the people on the governing side become serious about changes. Given the ongoing collapse of Japan's structure of governance as shown by various socio-economic and environmental problems, a "Big Bang" could occur anytime soon to awaken Japanese politics."

- All excerpts of comments are translations from Japanese to English